You will probably find that the process of applying for U.S. citizenship (naturalization) is far less complicated than getting your green card was. It involves submitting only one government form and very few accompanying materials, and attending an interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) near you. At the interview, you will be tested on your knowledge of English as well as U.S. history and government.
As with any application to USCIS, however, you must take great care to make sure you are eligible, fill out the form correctly, and prepare fully for the interview and exam. For eligibility rules, see “Who Can Apply for U.S. Citizenship.”
Recognize also that there are risks to submitting an application for naturalization. If information emerges that casts doubt on your eligibility for the green card, you could not only be denied citizenship but lose your U.S. lawful permanent residence.
Submitting the Naturalization Application
The most important part of your citizenship application is Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, available for free download on the USCIS website. Along with the N-400 form, you will need to prepare and send:
- a fee payment (see the Form N-400 page of the USCIS website for the latest; in early 2013, it was $680 in total, including $595 for the basic fee and $85 for biometrics)
- a photocopy of your green card (both sides)
- a cover letter (optional, but a good idea), explaining what’s included and noting any special requests, such for a fee waiver or disability accommodations
- two color photos, U.S. passport style, with your name and A-number written on the back of each, in pencil or felt pen, and
- any other documents particular to your situation; for example, an N-648 form if you are applying for a waiver of naturalization requirements based on disability, or proof that you are eligible to apply after three (not five) years based on your marriage to and residence with a U.S. citizen.
Make a complete copy before mailing your application to USCIS, following the instructions on its website.
Some time after submitting your citizenship application, you will be notified when to appear for a personal interview at your local USCIS office. During that interview, a USCIS officer will review your application and approve or deny your citizenship. However, you might wait several months for this notification of your interview.
Preparing for Your Naturalization Interview
You will need to show that you can speak and read in English. If you aren’t already comfortable with this, taking a class at a local adult school may help. To focus on the key vocabulary, see the “Study Materials for the English Test” page of the USCIS website.
You will also need to study 100 questions in preparation for the exam on U.S. history and government. Unless you qualify for a waiver (based on age or disability), you will need to answer six out of ten of these correctly in order to pass the exam. See the “Study Materials for the Civics Test” page of the USCIS website to find these questions and various means of studying them.
What Happens at the Naturalization Interview
At your interview, a USCIS officer will review your application and ask you various questions from Form N-400. This serves a dual purpose: to confirm your eligibility and to test your knowledge of spoken English. The officer will also ask you to write a sentence in English, and ask you up to ten questions from the 100 that you studied. (If you answer the first six correctly, the test will stop there!)
If you are approved, you will be scheduled for a swearing-in ceremony. You are not a citizen until you are sworn in.
If you are denied because of failure to pass the English or the civics test, you will be automatically rescheduled within 90 days. If you are not approved for some other reason, you may be given time to overcome the problem. This would be a good time to get a lawyer’s help.
For detailed information on the citizenship application process, see Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).